In discussing many of New York’s larceny laws, our criminal lawyers frequently explain that the charge a defendant faces will usually depend not on the nature of the property stolen, but rather, the value of that property. For example, if a person possesses stolen property, and the value of that property is less than $1000, he or she will probably be charged with a misdemeanor crime of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fifth Degree. If a person commits the same criminal act, but the value of the property exceeds $1,000, he or she will likely be charged with a felony offense of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Fourth Degree. As the value of a piece of stolen property increases, so too does the seriousness of the offense. Under New York Penal Law 165.45, it is a Class E felony for a person to possess stolen property with a value of $1,000 or more. If the value of the property exceeds $3,000, the offense is upgraded to a Class D felony (New York Penal Law 165.50). If the property is worth more than $50,000, the defendant will be charged with a Class C felony (New York Penal Law 165.52). Finally, if a defendant possesses stolen property with a value of $1 million dollars or more, that defendant can be charged with a class B felony (New York Penal Law 165.54). For each of these offenses, the value of the property in question is an element that prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
In some circumstances, the value of a piece of property is clear. Generally speaking, if you walked into an electronics store and stole a brand new high-definition television, its value would simply be the retail price that a consumer would have paid for the television. As your New York criminal defense attorney will explain, however, the alleged value attached to a piece of property is not always so clearly defined. If the television in the previous scenario had actually been a floor model, its remote had been lost, and it no longer displayed programming in high definition, its value might be significantly less than retail price. If you stole this television, could prosecutors still prove it was worth what a consumer would pay for an unused model?
New York’s criminal courts have addressed this question in People v. Medina. In Medina, police received information that the defendant, a business owner engaged in buying and converting gold into bullion, had recently been in the market to purchase stolen jewelry. Officers set up an undercover operation where the defendant was sold numerous stolen items, including “rings, chains, a watchcase without the movement, other watch parts, medallions and bracelets.”
In order to charge the defendant with a felony, officers were sure to offer Medina jewelry they believed to have a value in excess of $1,000. Medina made the purchase, and was charged with violating NY PL165.45, a Class E felony. At trial, prosecutors called upon a jewelry expert to testify as to the value of the property purchased by the defendant. According to the expert’s testimony, the retail value, what it would have cost the defendant “on the market were he to purchase the goods legitimately,” was $2000.
In considering the witness’s testimony, the Court began by noting that generally, property is to be valued according to its retail price. As the Court explained, however, “the condition of an item and the extent of its use or deterioration are certainly factors in determining what price a person would be willing to pay for the item were he buying it legitimately.” Upon examining the jewelry offered into evidence, the Court highlighted that much of it was broken and generally in need of repair. In other words, this jewelry was not in “new” condition.
After reviewing the expert’s testimony, the Court found no indication that the depreciated condition of the property had been accounted for in arriving at the property’s retail value. Despite the jewelry itself not being “brand new,” prosecutors were attempting to value it as if it were. Furthermore, no testimony was offered that a retail market actually existed for “watchcases without movements or other watch parts.” In other words, there was no evidence that a retail price could be attached to this particular property at all.
Because of the lack of evidence, the Court determined that the prosecution did not meet its burden of proving the jewelry’s retail value beyond a reasonable doubt. Ultimately, the price was adjusted from “retail value” to the much lower “scrap price.” Because the Court ultimately accepted this much lower figure, the defendant’s charge was properly reduced to a misdemeanor.
Whether or not the ruling and analysis of Medina is applicable in your case is certainly something to discuss with the criminal defense attorney you retained to defend you against a charge of Grand Larceny or Criminal Possession of Stolen Property. It is worth noting, however, an overzealous prosecutor exaggerating prices – inadvertent or not – is something that can make a difference between state prison, county jail time and no incarceration at all. One of many possible defenses to an arrest for a New York theft or New York larceny crime, challenging property value may be critical.
For a wealth of information and analysis on any of the degrees and levels of Criminal Possession of Stolen Property and Grand Larceny in New York, review the links above to Saland Law PC’s theft resources.
Defending those accused of white collar crimes in New York City and her surrounding suburbs, Saland Law PC is a New York criminal defense firm founded by two former Manhattan Assistant District Attorneys.